the difference between feral and stray cats:
A feral cat will not approach you. It will wait until you leave before approaching food. It will be silent, well groomed, and more active at night.
If the cat is not feral it would be skinny. Does it meyow? Is it dirty and thin? Open a can of food near the trap and see if it comes near it. Put your hand carefully near the trap and see if it will smell your hand. Does it hiss, is it vocal?
Do not open the trap.
Resources in the Southeastern PA - Delaware area:
- Alley Cat Allies www.alleycat.org
- Forgotten Cats www.forgottencats.org
- Andy’s Friends Cat Rescue www.andysfriends.org
- The Spayed Club www.thespayedclubclynic.org
- The Pet Adoption and Lifecare Society www.palspets.org
The most practical and humane way to control feral colonies is to vaccinate and neuter the cats, and then return them to their own territory to survive without increasing the population.
Mercury the Cat was born in this same woods four years ago. A friend had called asking if we could foster an injured kitten. We learned that two men had been out walking, when one of them saw a hawk carrying something in its talons high in the air. Whether by its struggles or by the hawk’s design, the prey dropped nearby. So they rushed over to find out what the hawk had caught and were surprised to see a tiny kitten lying unconscious on the ground.
They took the kitten to a nearby veterinarian where she was treated for two weeks. She had survived her fall without broken bones,. But when she came to, she was unable to walk. For more than a week she had to be hand fed. In a while she was able to army crawl but couldn’t use her right front leg at all.
Mercury spent another week in a blanket watching animation on my bed She has mostly recovered and lives with humility the way survivors do who appreciate a second chance at life. She talks with a marvelous vocabulary of chirps and trills and she positively sings for shrimp. She walks with a funny limp raising her foot high in the air like a soldier on parade. Sometimes her foot slides sideways and she falls off chairs. She was so well cared for at the veterinary that she is the only animal I have ever know who actually enjoys seeing the vet.
There are a few things she has trouble with. For a long time she couldn’t go near anything black. When you pick her up she struggles and her legs start churning. She has a mortal fear of large birds. And even after all this time, every night when she dreams she will jump straight up in the air. I wouldn’t want to have her nightmares. But she is also kind, loving, and forgiving. A cat in a million who never lets disability hold her back.
You can train a cat to do almost anything
If you have a trusting relationship with your cat, she will do everything she can to please you. Cats are as smart as dogs. Their motivation is more about food so we use that for reward. Your cat looks to you for approval, and she needs to know what you want her to do. One of the easiest things is "High Five". Find her an irresistable treat: cooked shrimp, thin sliced roast beef, or dried tuna flakes 'katsuobushi' (cheaper at the Asian grocery). Hold your empty hand over kittie's head and say 'sit'. It is natural for cats to sit when they look up, so you can reward and praise her for doing something that she understands. Reward should be immediate but not every time so she doesn't do it just for the treat. Next session after she sits, give a little prompt to raise her foot by touching it. Even if she just lifts her foot a little, give her a reward and praise. Then gradually progress from there over time. It takes a little patience, tender words, and an irresistable treat. A smart cat will High Five will hold up her paw and High Five you for a treat. Then you have opened up a new line of communication between you and your cat. Not every cat will go this far, but most will hold up a paw when you hold up your hand and say "high five". NEXT: YES, YOU CAN TOILET TRAIN YOUR CAT.
Our first experience with feral cats
March 28 Sitting in my car at 6 PM after seeing a movie, saw a mother cat and her kitten playing in the parking lot around some dumpsters. The kitten was a gorgeous smoky grey tabby. I was fascinated. She danced away. Wouldn’t let me get within ten yards of her. Left half of my corned beef sandwich on the curb and watched her eat from a distance. The wild side is a narrow window that closes quickly. To win the trust of an animal is a true blessing, and a responsibility.
March 29, Good Friday. Returned with cat food but saw no cats. A young woman came out from the salon and told me that her friend had picked up a kitten in the parking lot last year.
March 30, Saturday. A beautiful sunny day. Our cat Mercury went with us in the car. The mother cat looked like she was pregnant again. We returned after dinner to collect our cat dishes and saw a black cat eating next to a noisy diesel tow truck.
Sunday, April 7 a blue van full of cats in traps pulled into my driveway . A very busy young woman who introduced herself as the Cat Trapping Supervisor set six small animal traps on my lawn, handed me a printed sheet of instructions, some cloth sheets used for covering the traps after you catch something, and demanded that I had to trap them all and return all of the sheets, before she drove off to rescue cats. We cleared a space in the garage and spread dog training pads around liberally dusted with flea powder in preparation for our feline guests.
We started a little late: 6:30 pm Set three traps with tuna in oil. 7 pm we watched the grey tabby walk all around the parking lot, past our traps, and onward without a glance. 8pm a tabby cat (the same one?) again walked all the way around the large parking lot. She was joined by the black cat. Neither noticed our traps.
8:36pm sitting in the car we heard a trap spring. Inside, frightened and forlorn was the pretty little grey tabby kitten. It was hard to believe that we had caught the kitten on our first night out. We covered her cage to keep her calm and took her home inside the trap.
Nursing her back to health
April 10, Wednesday, The new kitten comes home . We had made a mistake and sent her to a veterinary for feral cats. They remain in the traps during their stay, which for her was three days. She had fevers. We were told that a 5 month old kitten would be difficult to socialize, so we bought a large cage with several shelves, wheels, and two sets of doors expecting a long confinement, and placed her inside on a soft blanket.
The next morning you could tell that something was wrong. Thankfully she had tested negative for Feline Leukemia Virus, Feline Immunodeficiency Virus, Feline Distemper and she was not in danger of Rabies. She had been deflead, wormed. By all accounts a healthy kitty. Normal body temperature for cats is 99.5 to 102.5. We took her to Dr Spancake, one of the best veterinarians we have found. She weighs 4 pounds. Her temperature was 103º and he looked at her teeth and decided that she was probably born in the middle of November. He also told me to use a rectal thermometer. She had alreasy endured too much so I bought a digital ear thermometer at Pet Smart.
We sat and talked to her, comforted her, worried about her but she just lay in the cage looking forlorn. Then she saw Mercury the Cat cautiously approaching the cage and she started to purr.
Friday, had to take Mira to the vet again because her fever wouldn’t go away and she wouldn’t eat. Meanwhile I keep going back to try to catch the mother cat who is definitely in a family way. Jerry from the Chinese restaurant told me that people in Hondurans keep an animal called a Pizote for a pet. Caught another grey tabby cat at 10pm.
April 13, Saturday: Our kitten is on antibiotics, eats and drinks very little. No need to stay in the cage, she’s not the wild terror we had been led to expect. Kyung has named her Mira after the binary star discovered in August 1596. It means wonderful in Latin. I spent a lonely Saturday night waiting in vain to catch the mother cat. Meanwhile Mira watches Foster Cat John on Livestream (www.purrfectpals.org in Arlington, WA) and starts to purr when she sees the kittens.
And so it went. Mira visited the vet six times. He gave her a shot for her appetite and she bit him.. She hides under the furniture whenever I am around expecting me to take her back again. I call her “Squeezy” and so much want to win her trust, but she throws her love at Mercury who ignores her.
The black cat waits in the parking lot for me every evening. A school bus driver told me this is the third year she has seen him. His ear has been tipped meaning that he was once caught and released, which is why he won’t go into a trap to take him in for a physical. Someone set large plastic bins for cat shelters in the woods. They appear to be a few years old.
We caught three more cats. They were taken by the Cat Trapping Supervisor to be neutered, vaccinated and then she came back and we let them go. When the traps opened they shot off into the woods and I don’t think we ever saw any of them again. The Cat Trapping Supervisor told us she has been doing this for five years and is good at it.
Mira and Mercury touched noses and the ice was broken.
April 24 Wednesday. Mira’s temperature is 105.5º We rushed her to the well equipped emergency vet near West Chester. They tested her blood for pathogens, gave her antibiotics and fluids. By the next day the antibiotics had worked and Mira was better. On Saturday evening we took Mercury and Mira to look for stray cats . Mira came alert when we approached her old territory.
April 30, Mercury has become interested in Mira and they romp around the room in a furious ambush game. Mercury limps with a heavy tread that carries through the floorboards. Mira is light on her feet. Mercury tries to sneak up on Mira who dances away and then circles around behind Mercury, pouncing from behind. Mercury has met more than her match, exhausted but happy.
We have been meeting the security guards, state troopers and school bus drivers when we come to feed the feral cats. Everyone has a cat story and some show us picrures. Officer Murray has a photo album and we realize that this is the kitten that the woman from the salon had rescued and nursed back to life. The officer confided that he might not be here if it hadn’t been for the company of that cat.
There is a big grey tabby cat, a handsome fellow with a large head. I don’t see him often but when he’s around Velvet disappears. He won't go near a trap. Unneutered males puff the hair around their head to look macho. This guy is probably Mira’s father. Other cats come and go, all tabbys. Some brown like Mercury and some grey like Mira.
May 30, Thursday. The Cat Trapping Supervisor asked for her traps back. She pulled into the driveway with her van full of trapped cats. There were scratches on her legs and arms, and the left mirror was broken. She told me that one of the cats had escaped while she was going down the highway. “It crossed the dash, down the driver’s side door, rappelled down my left leg, climbed under the gas and brake pedals and up under the dash. Had to try to grab it while I was driving.”